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Department of OFWs pushed

/ 05:22 AM September 18, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III appeared to have been trapped into supporting the proposal creating a separate department for migrant workers, which he admitted on Tuesday “runs counter” to the government’s goal of repatriating these workers and ensuring that they are provided opportunities in the country.

During the Senate’s deliberation of his department’s 2020 budget, Bello pointed out that he had tried in the last few months to remain neutral on the matter given that as labor chief his “position will always be suspect.”

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But upon the prodding of senators, Bello said he supported the move since this was what President Duterte wanted.

“Since the leadership already took a position, I would go on record in supporting this move to create a separate Department of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers),” he said.

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In July, bodu said in an event honoring OFWs that he would rush the creation of the department that would solely cater to their needs.

For migrant workers

Thus, his former aide, Sen. Chrisopher Bong Go, filed Senate Bill No. 202, establishing the umbrella agency that would address issues and concerns of migrant workers and their families.

When asked by labor committee chair Sen. Joel Villanueva about the key features of the new department that the Department of Labor and Employment’s attached agencies Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration cannot address under the current setup, Bello did not provide a direct answer.

“In recompense for their contribution, it’s fair to create a department just to focus on the protection and promotion of their welfare,” Bello said.

Villanueva noted that while they agreed that the rights of OFWs should be protected, they wanted to be assured that this was the “right direction” for the government, especially that it was in the middle of rationalizing the bureaucracy.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, said it was not the intention of proponents of a Department of Overseas Filipino Workers to make “labor export” a state policy by sending scores of Filipinos abroad.

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The House leader defended House bills creating such a department, arguing that it would help address unemployment in the short term and promote the welfare of OFWs by pointing them to a one-stop shop for their concerns.

‘Only a recognition’

“The criticisms that we’ll be perpetuating OFWs and making it policy to export laborers if we create a Department of OFWs are not true,” Cayetano told a joint hearing of the House committees on government reorganization and on overseas workers affairs.

He said the OFW department was only a “recognition” of the reality that millions of Filipinos still had no jobs, and employers abroad were actively “pirating” Filipino talent.

In addition, the Taguig lawmaker said the department would ensure that government services related to OFW concerns would be streamlined with one Cabinet-rank official on top of everything.

Cayetano is one of several lawmakers who have filed a bill creating an OFW department, one of the legislative priorities identified by Mr. Duterte during his fourth State of the Nation address in July.

As of Tuesday, 31 similar bills have been filed at the House, according to Batangas Rep. Mario Vittorio Mariño, chair of the House government reorganization panel.

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